I never understood the appeal of the accident-and-explosion genre of television show. You know, those hour-long, testosterone-mongering episodes comprised of scene after scene of car wrecks, airshow disasters and building demolitions gone wrong. In fact, while showing houses last weekend, near a street known for amateur (read: illegal) auto racing, my client and I witnessed one of these underground racers cause a six-car crash worthy of one of those shows.
I heard the vroom of his engine and hesitated to make my turn; good thing, too — about four seconds later, he sideswiped two cars, lost control, and smashed into a car in oncoming traffic, causing it to crush about three parked cars before he flipped his own car, just missing the crowded pedestrian foot traffic as he came to rest upside down on the sidewalk.
And you know what? No music played, there was no replay and no voice-over as an announcer wrapped it up with a witty "bon mot" (French for "clever remark") — nothing but the voice of my client (a medical professional) as she calmly called 9-1-1. There was nothing but some very scary moments as excited bystanders (inadvisably?) pulled some elderly people out of the hit car, and even scarier moments as my client listed off some of the serious, delayed effects such a trauma could have on people of a certain age.
We had just seen a darling, fully restored and remodeled Craftsman bungalow with intact original wood moldings, a large backyard and — the holy grail for single female homebuyers in my area — an attached garage. And my client had already decided that, while she was game for lots of things, the neighborhood was a deal-breaker for her.
And then the wreck happened. And as we watched the police stride up to the scene, my client leaned her head on the window and sighed, "I wish I could pick that place up and move it somewhere else."
Oh, if only I had a dime — scratch that, let’s fantasize big — $10 for every time a client said, "I wish I could pick that house up and put it down somewhere else."
I like to think that post-recession we’re all focused on things that matter enough to have evolved beyond over the excessive political correctness of yesteryear, but in a nod to the 1990s, I’ll call them "location-impaired" or "pick up" homes.
It does often seem like the owners of would-be "pick up" homes know what they have on their hands. Perhaps that’s why they tend to invest so much time, energy, money and style to make them over-the-top desirable; they know they have something to compensate for.
Like the grand colonial with commercial chef’s kitchen, remodeled bathrooms, soaring coved ceilings and a room-sized walk-in master closet — oh, yeah, and that 128-unit apartment complex next door. …CONTINUED
Or the tricked-out, investor-flip cottage with brand-new everything, cute breakfast nook and formal dining room, huge backyard and in-law unit right under the BART tracks. But not even convenient to the actual BART station. All the noise and vibration of the train, with none of the advantages of it.
Or that really spacious little house on the cul-de-sac where in the three minutes it took me to find and locate the lockbox the neighbor’s off-leash pitbull got so close and personal that I could feel his slobbery canine breath — along with that of my client, who was petrified and breathing down my neck trying to get into the place the second the lock unlatched. I’m a dog lover, but that was a bit extreme.
Ditto for that sweet little Mediterranean with every window on one side of the house opening out onto a view of the neighbor’s underground dog-breeding "business." And their sister company (to use the word company loosely): a junk car storage "enterprise."
My clients’ thoughts are as clear to read on their faces as if they were in a bubble over their heads. And then they verbalize them, "Pick it up and move it? Sign me up. Where it’s at right now? Never in a million years."
While every buyer’s tolerance level varies, I even hear this "pick it up and move it" fantasy from the mouths of buyers seeing homes without such exotic location impairments. The home right next to a school. On a busy street. Facing the freeway sound wall. These all also inspire "pick up" fantasies.
What can be done about these sorts of location impairments? Often, not a heck of a lot. I just think that in the world of behavioral economics, with its emphasis on rational thinking, it’s important for us all to stay mindful of the not-so-rational, even magical thinking that so many of us consumers do.
If you’re buying a location-impaired property because you love the house and don’t mind the so-called impairment, make sure you pay lower than the market rate for the home itself, and expect — no — plan to pass that discount down to the intrepid soul who eventually buys it from you. If you’re selling one, get a clue and consider timing your "sell" for a strong seller’s market, when supply is at a minimum and your sales price won’t be dinged as heavily as in a buyer’s market.
And if you own a "pick up" property, make sure you maintain and improve your property to keep it in excellent condition. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot you can do unless the issue is a visual blight next door or behind your home. In that case, a high fence and some bamboo can work wonders. An offer to help with the yardwork or even, in very extreme cases, a call to the city’s blight reduction office never hurt anyone, either.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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